Now that lawmakers have passed a new state budget, school districts are busy figuring out whether they'll still have to make cuts for the coming school year.
The Seattle school district, which has been facing a $40 million deficit, said it will no longer have to cut librarians, assistant principals and other school-based positions. The projected cuts to schools had totaled about 90 full-time positions.
Legislators voted to lift the cap on the amount school districts can raise through local property taxes. For many districts including Seattle, that's welcome news. The change means Seattle Public Schools will be able to collect $3,000 per student in local levy funds next year instead of $2,500.
JoLynn Berge, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said she thinks lawmakers made that move after hearing of impending cuts to schools.
“There was general recognition that they’d taken levies down too low and a lot of districts were in a deficit position,” she said. “So I think it was in response to that.”
Two years ago, lawmakers increased state education funding to satisfy the McCleary school finance lawsuit, but limited local levies to reduce inequities between districts.
Still, the Seattle school district faces a deficit totaling about $24 million for the coming school year that it's addressing in part through cuts to central administration, Berge said.
In the Bethel district in suburban Pierce County, Superintendent Tom Siegel said he’s still analyzing the details of the state budget but doesn’t anticipate that the district will have to make cuts to personnel or programs for the coming school year.
Nevertheless, he said he’s frustrated by the amount of special education funding from the state.
Lawmakers provided an “incremental” boost to special education funding but failed to provide enough, Seigel said.
He said districts like his are forced to use local levies to pay for special education services the state is legally obligated to cover.
“This is something the state has not funded fully ever and frankly, I would anticipate a federal lawsuit that forces the state to finally fully pay special education costs,” he said.
Seigel said the Bethel district has had to use about $5 million annually in levy funds to provide special education services.
Seattle Public Schools officials echoed those concerns. Berge said the district will get roughly $2 million extra for special education but that the district uses $70 million in local levy funds to provide for services for students with disabilities.
“We appreciate the increase for special education, but continue to have grave concerns about the state’s slow pace in fully funding special education as is required by law,” Seattle Public Schools said in a statement.